The Hardest Part of the Path to FIRE is…

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The Hardest Part of the Path to FIRE is...The path to FIRE (financial independence / retire early) can be a long and sometimes arduous path.  Each of us runs into our own obstacles and stumbling blocks along the way.

One piece of good news is that, unlike the early trail-blazers that went down this path, there’s now a wonderful community on the big old Internet.  If you look past the get-rich-quick garbage out there, you’ll find a lot of supportive and helpful folks who want you to succeed.

Another plus in your favor is that FIRE continues to become something more folks are doing.  It’s far from mainstream, but it’s more common than it has been anytime before.

Because of that, there are a lot of success stories providing some good motivation along the way.  In fact, I hope to be one of those motivators for others once I reach FIRE at the end of this year.

Nevertheless, arriving at the point where you can quit your job (if desired) can present each of us with some challenges along the way…


One of the harder parts of the path to FIRE

Starting out is difficult for folks.  You have to remember, FIRE is something only a small percentage of people actually chase after.  In fact, most folks don’t even realize that this is a possibility.

But you’ve either already had your moment of awakening or you’re starting to right now.  Something opened up your eyes to a new reality.  Something made you realize that there’s another way.

For some of you, that may have been the Rich Dad Poor Dad book.  For others, it may have been a site like Mr. Money Mustache or Early Retirement Extreme.

Robert Kiyosaki’s books were the initial trigger for me.  However, the path to FIRE became a possible reality when I stumbled on Joe’s Retire by 40 site.  I was in awe seeing what a regular guy similar to me was doing and how he was molding his future for the better.

Regardless of the catalyst, you’ve chosen the red pill over the blue pill…

That’s the first step.  It’s also the leap that many folks will never make.  They can’t wrap their heads around it and even if they can… they’d rather take the blue pill and go back to the life they’ve been living.

If you’ve had your eye-opener and taken the red pill, you’ve already conquered the first part of the battle.


Another hurdle on the road to FIRE

The Hardest Part of the Path to FIRE is... - Another hurdle on the road to FIRE
It seems like this would be an easier race without all those hurdles in the way…

The path to FIRE really isn’t complex.  I’ve detailed the secret formula to FI already and there’s nothing earth-shattering about it (though it is one of my favorite posts I’ve written!).

But really, all you need to do is save enough money to cover your annual expenses throughout your future.  Whether you decide to make that happen by cutting your current expenses or by making more money is up to you.

The path to FIRE is going to vary for everyone.  Maybe it’s through investing in rental properties.  Alternatively, maybe it’s by changing careers or starting a side hustle.  Or perhaps you already make great money and just need to cut your expenses.  And, it very well might be a combination of different ideas.

This step is a gotcha for many folks.  It’s hard for people to give up all they’ve ever known.  Society teaches us to spend and that’s what all we really know… the American dream.  Nice cars, nice houses, the newest and best electronics, expensive vacations… we love it all.

Here’s what’s funny though – when you’re on the path to FIRE, people tend to think that you’re sacrificing to make it happen.  Between you and me, we haven’t found this to be the case.  We live in a very nice house in a great development in the suburbs and love to take our vacations.

The difference is that we’re paying ourselves first and then enjoying the remainder.  By making some small changes in our lives, we’re able to stay on track to make FIRE happen without missing out on the here and now.

Our course to FIRE included a good job, investing in rental properties, starting a couple small side businesses, and cutting back on some stupid expenses.  The most important part of our plan though has been automation.

We’re currently at around a 60% personal savings rate.  And the reason this has worked so well for us is that it’s hard to spend the money if you don’t see it.  Automation has to be one of the biggest reasons for success in our journey.

Between my 401(k), HSA, and Roth IRA, all my contributions are scheduled to take place automatically when payday rolls around.  Additionally, a good chunk of change is automatically moved to our online savings account a day or so after I get paid.

Putting these systems in place took just a little bit of time.  Figuring out how much to contribute and tweaking it along the way to make it hurt a little bit was the tougher part.

But once that was done… it’s just done.  So what’s left?


Here’s what I consider the hardest part of the path to FIRE

The Hardest Part of the Path to FIRE is... - Here's what I consider to be the hardest part of the path to FIRE
Ugh, I hate waiting… arf!

So, you’ve realized the possibility of FIRE and made the intentional choices to make this happen.  You have everything rolling the way it should be and you’ve set it up to automatically happen.

Great… now what?

Yup, that’s what I think’s the hardest part of the path to FIRE… the waiting.

If you love your job, this isn’t going to be a big deal.  However, if your main goal with FIRE is to be done with your current job so you can focus on some “passion projects” or even retire completely, then the waiting is tough.

Depending on your savings rate and your retirement goals, it can be a good number of years until you’re able to quit your job.  The upshot is that the math can give you a ballpark answer on how long you’ll be waiting.

And if you’re smart, you’re mapping out your path with a retirement calculator like the one in Empower (formerly Personal Capital).  If you’ve already set up your free account, your balances are already there so you don’t have to do a lot of scenario-tweaking.  This is a great way to set some expectations for yourself.

In the meantime, there’s nothing you can do but be patient.  And patience is extremely hard when you’re excited about a new future.

You might be able to expedite the journey by finding more ways to make even more money or increase your savings even further.  However, in some cases, this can be tough to overcome.

In my situation, I have a family to support and be with.  I’m good with spending time on my side hustles, but there’s a limit for me.  I choose to put somewhat of a cap on the time spent on these things so I can continue to enjoy our time together.

And that’s Ok because I understand that.  I know I could sacrifice more time to make it happen sooner, but I’m not willing to do that.

My path to FIRE has been years in the making, but the waiting is finally paying off.  We’ll be FIRE in a few months and then we’ll be able to focus on the next part of our adventure – moving to Panama.

Not only that, but I’m excited about the anticipation of my blog income increasing even more once I have more time to put into it.  It’s funny to expect more income coming in once you quit your 9-5 job, but most money opportunities seem to arise when the money’s not as important.


Enjoying the present

The Hardest Part of the Path to FIRE is... - Enjoying the present
This looks like it would be fun… minus the cold water!

On a final note, if you’re on the path to FIRE and stuck in the “waiting” phase, I want to remind you to enjoy the present.

This was actually a struggle for me for a long time.  I became consumed with finding ways to quit my job even earlier.  I spent too much time looking for avenues to cut our expenses further and increase our income more.

It was getting to the point where it was starting to affect the relationship with my wife and daughter.  The irony was that I was pushing to reach FIRE so I could spend more time with them.  In the meantime, though, I was taking too much away from our time together to do it… ouch.

My awakening to this was listening to an episode of the Afford Anything podcast probably about a year ago.  Paula Pant went on a tangent about not trading today’s happiness for tomorrow because you never know if tomorrow might not come along.

I already knew that, but for some reason, it just hit me like a ton of bricks.  I’ve automated everything and I’m on track to reach our target – it’s time to start paying more attention to today.

The journey to financial independence is something I commend anyone for doing.  However, it’s imperative not to give up your life today in order to reach it.  The key is to find a good balance between making it happen while not taking away from your current relationships.

And that’s what I want to pass onto you in this post.  If you have all your cards already laid out and working for you and you’re stuck in the waiting game to reach your next adventure, don’t let it bring you down.

You’ve done everything right, now just enjoy your life along the way.  Believe it or not, your day of FIRE will be here before you know it and the hard work will have paid off.


For me, the hardest part of the path to FIRE has been the waiting.  What do you (or did you) find to be the most difficult part?


Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

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18 thoughts on “The Hardest Part of the Path to FIRE is…”

    1. Haha, I didn’t even think about that, but that’s dead-on! And a great song to boot!

      So, are you going to FinCon this year and bringing your guitar to jam for everyone? 😉

      — Jim

  1. That’s a great perspective. The waiting can be years especially if you’re just starting out. For me, it wasn’t that long because I started my FIRE journey when we already were pretty comfortable financially. I was truly miserable for 2 years and it was a tough period. I’m glad I pushed myself through it, though.
    Thanks for the mention! Influencing people to improve their lives is what makes blogging a worthy hobby.

    1. Yeah, it sounds like the struggle of waiting definitely paid off for you in the long run – hopefully, it will for me as well!

      And, of course, you’re welcome on the mention – you’re the catalyst that got really got me going on this path. 🙂

      — Jim

  2. Definitely. It can take a decade (or longer) of saving to reach financial independence. That takes a lot of patience, and most people get distracted long before that.

    My secret was to just stay busy, but to keep my savings level really high. Efficiency FTW. Some years would even be down years, but my net worth just kept marching forward.

    It’s OK to enjoy life or get distracted, just don’t get distracted by spendy pursuits.

    1. Yeah, if you ignore all the glitter and gold, you’ll get there eventually. I like your idea of staying busy to try to keep your mind from being stuck on the misery of a job you’re ready to be done with (at least in my case).

      — Jim

  3. For me it was definitely Rich Dad, Poor Dad that opened my world to cash flow and what REAL assets are. Heck, his work is the basis for a couple of my post. The Milllionaire Next door was also clutch.

    I have a question for you – how much do clothes costs in the matrix?

    Oh – and you are right. Waiting is the hardest part. I’m like a little kid in the back of the car on a 12 hour car trip. Are we there yet?

    1. I only read the Millionaire Next Door about a year ago… fantastic book to put things in perspective!

      Clothes? Who needs clothes in the Matrix?! 😉

      Haha, I like the “are we there yet?” – that’s my same feeling every day!

      — Jim

  4. Patience is a virtue, for good reason. I agree that the patience to endure the final year is one of the more challenging phases of the Road To FIRE. It’s funny, though:. After you’ve FIRE’d, you kinda sorta forget all that it took to get there. Start practicing living in the moment. In a few short months, that’s all you’ll be doing!

  5. the hardest part for me is to get my wife fully on board in planning for early retirement. Now that she is, we have to work together to watch those expenses so that she retire earlier than anticipated.

    1. That’s a big one, Dan! I was lucky that my wife jumped on board pretty quickly, but I’ve heard a lot of stories about this being a struggle for folks. Glad you guys were able to get past that hurdle!

      — Jim

  6. “It was getting to the point where it was starting to affect the relationship with my wife and daughter. The irony was that I was pushing to reach FIRE so I could spend more time with them.”

    I wish I could burn this into my brain. Great observation.

    1. Very tough battle for me. I hope others can figure out a balance and not head to far down the same road I started to go. Very glad I realized it before I did some damage that couldn’t be fixed.

      — Jim

  7. People who understand financial independence concepts in their 20s, or earlier, will have a much shorter waiting period than someone like me who didn’t read about it until in my early 40s and then didn’t really start acting on it for a few more years. From 1996 to about 2004 we had a total family income of less than $50k each year. Today we have zero debt and growing investments from when we started 401k accounts while in our 20s plus what we’re doing now. I encourage young people to invest early, live within biking distance of your work place and avoid debt. Start investing as early as possible, and put away as much as you can. Even though we had some lean investment years in our 30s-40s the modest amounts of money we had invested years earlier continued to grow. If you are a young person reading about financial independence DO NOT WAIT to start. Get educated about 401k, index funds, traditional and Roth IRAs and real estate to find what combination works for you. Avoid buying too much housing and car. Time has a way of creeping by if you fail to start investing. I could have left paid employment years ago if I had acted on the knowledge of investing more $ earlier in my life. At age 50 with a current net worth of around $700k I’ll likely be 55 by the time I’ll feel ready to do it now.

    1. Well said, DJ! For those just starting, the path looks complicated, but a little basic understanding and just starting as soon as possible can make all the difference. It’s funny – I look back at how tight money seemed decades ago, but if I had simply cut back on some of the extras and just contributed a few extra dollars a week, we’d be so much further ahead today.

      Thanks for the great comment!

      — Jim

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